Microsoft played it safe. And not much beyond that.
Microsoft fired the opening shots of E3 this year with their Press Conference ringing in the Los Angeles gaming mega-event. As to be expected, the conference space looked like it had been redecorated by the Lantern Corps with green light being the predominant element, massive green “ribbons” curving over the space, and the reinforcement Microsoft’s gaming philosophy for the year, “Xbox 360 is about YOU.”
It’s appropriate that for the opening shot, Microsoft started with the biggest gun of all, some actual gameplay from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. The demonstration began with a cadre of troops first using SCUBA gear to plant an explosive on a passing submarine, forcing it surface in the middle of a river that revealed Manhattan being ravaged by war. The troops took over the sub, got the launch control keys for the missile bays and fired them off. A quick escape followed, on rafts through a massive naval fleet battle.
Don Mattrick quickly came on to provide a quick run down of events, the expected announcements of games and Kinect, and then quickly moved off to let Crystal Dynamics staff show off the new Tomb Raider game. The introductory level played out, showing a younger, untrained, far more easily injured Lara Croft struggling to understand her new, kidnapped situation. Some classic environmental puzzle solving was shown off, along with the graphics engine that looks to have evolved considerably from the Tomb Raider: Underworld days. The big changes are the dramatic camera angles and a greater use of Quicktime events.
After the Tomb Raider demo, a welcome reappearance by Peter Moore occurred, this time speaking on behalf of EA Sports rather than his former position as Microsoft evangelist. After some disappointing emphasis on Kinect titles for EA Sports games like FIFA, Madden and Tiger Woods, he handed the reigns over to Dr. Ray Muzyka of BioWare, and it was Mass Effect 3 time. Kinect was employed here as well, with the ability to speak dialog choices, and issue orders to companions in combat.
A brief trailer for Ghost Recon: Future Soldier followed, with Ubisoft big cheese Yves Guillemot came on and handed things off to an Ubisoft staff member that demonstrated a new “Gunsmith” feature. It allows users to customize their own weapons, but was shown being used with gesture/voice control a la Iron Man to put guns in a schematic “exploded view” mode, swap in and out parts, and then demonstrate firing using Kinect, with the user opening and closing a fist to indicate firing.
Microsoft once again took to the stage with Marc Whitten to discuss the new Xbox Live experience, largely driven by voice recognition. He also announced that both YouTube and Bing would be coming to Xbox Live, as well as Live TV, a Kinect/voice driven experience that is scheduled for a fall update.
Dana White, president of Ultimate Fighting Championship then took to the stage to announce that UFC would be coming to Xbox Live. In addition to simply broadcasting the fight, Xbox viewers can interact with features like being able to “call the fight” with their predictions on match outcomes which are then tallied afterwards to show who correctly predicted the results.
Microsoft Studios head Phil Spencer then announced that all games being shown thereafter were exclusives, starting with Cliff Blezinski, Ice-T and Gears of War 3. Fenix and crew fight a massive creature while on a ship at sea. As to be expected, it looked gorgeous and was fit to burst with explosions and action. Next, Ryse was shown, a period Roman fighter using Kinect. Microsoft then showed off an HD-remaster of Halo known as Halo Anniversary: Combat Evolved due for a November 15
release. Forza 4 was also shown and dated for October 11
, and Fable: The Journey was revealed, once again demonstrating Kinect features like steering a horse cart by holding onto virtual reins, and some combat with gesture based, first person spell casting. The release date was slated for 2012.
Phil Spencer then returned to show off more games and announce that indie hit Minecraft was going to be arriving on the Xbox 360 for the holidays, then moved onto a decidedly non-Indie preview with an elaborate new game called Kinect Disneyland Adventures. The program was actually a virtual tour of Disneyland, complete with new mini-games that allowed kids to fly along with Peter Pan, or visit Wonderland. Kinect Star Wars then followed showing off gameplay as hinted in last year’s press conference, including some vehicular activity with pod racing, starfighter combat, and of course, Jedi-based fighting, with the curious inclusion of voice operated lightsabers, and the more sensible use of gestures to manipulate the force.
This was followed by Tim Schafer, formally announced Sesame Street: Once Upon A Monster in which two players—again, using Kinect—can wear the furry mantles of Elmo and Cookie Monster to participate in various mini-games in order to befriend monsters. Dancing and other Kinect activities followed, and Schafer made it very clear that this game was designed for young children.
The Kinect parade continued with project head Kudo Tsunoda taking the stage and announcing Kinect Fun Labs, an “app store” of sorts for Kinect, that offers small demos of various aspects of Kinect. One developer, Good Science Labs, showed off a new program that creates Kinect Avatars entirely based off face and body scans, another application showed off finger tracking and drawing in 3D space, while another application finally revealed Object Capture, a feature first shown in the early Kinect trailers that had yet to materialize until now.
Tsunoda returned and showed off the expected sequel to their biggest Kinect hit, Kinect Sports: Season 2, with new sports like Skiing and Tennis, as well as new gestures and voice recognition systems. Kasson Crooker also returned to the stage after last year’s Dance Central debut, to announce Dance Central 2 which will have true multi-player features, tweaked systems like “break it down,” and the ability to import songs from Dance Central into the sequel.
And finally, to close the press conference, Don Mattrick came back, emphasized that the Xbox 360 would be getting Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 downloadable content first, and showed off a trailer for Halo 4, announcing that it was the start of a new sequel.
All in all, there were little in the way of surprises for Microsoft at this year’s E3. With the exception of Ryse, there were no new franchises on show, and Microsoft’s trend of announcing former PS3 exclusives coming to the 360 were entirely absent. There was a lot of emphasis on Kinect, perhaps too much for the more hardcore gaming contingent, but Microsoft played it safe by announcing the major sequels everyone is looking forward to.
With this first press conference now out of the way, it looks like it’s up to Sony and—much more likely—Nintendo to bring something new to the table that people might not be expecting. Microsoft has done what they needed to, but provided little else.